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Val McDermid - The Mermaids Singing:
I had heard of Val McDermid a long time ago and I am sure I can remember reading one of her books a while back, A Distant Echo was, I think the name of the book. I was sure I could remember it being a really enjoyable read but at the time I was engrossed with some of my other favourite authors like Michael Connelly and Jeffery Deaver. However a few years passed and my backlog of books disappeared and I felt it was time to revisit Val McDermid and after doing some research I discovered that this was the first book in a series.
This book, entitled, "The Mermaids Singing" has nothing to do with mermaids and it definitely aimed at an adult audience and I would only recommend it to those that enjoy crime thriller books and I have recommended this book to several people who have all enjoyed it.
"The Mermaids Singing" is set in the North of the country (England) in a town called Bradfield and is centred around the character of Tony Hill, a clinical psychologist who is known for his expertise on studying serial killers, though captured serial killers are his really area of prowess. The back of this book states (also the first lines) "You always remember the first time. Isn't that what they say about sex? How much more true it is of murder" not only do I think this helps draw the reader in but I also think that this is the case for Tony as he tackles his first serial killer outside of the confines of a prison. I think this is a good way to start the series as although there is a lot of background for you to learn you get to tackle things with him from the start. The case really hits home for Tony who has sexual problems of his own, this adds another element to the book and the depth of the character but you should really read the book for details.
Tony of course has a partner in crime, for lack of a better saying; this is Carol Jordan, a police detective that is chucked into the case with Tony, she and Tony being to get along, maybe a bit too well. Carols brother, a computer whiz, also has a part to play in this thrilling story. You do hear things both from the point of view of the killer and Tony and I think this helps you feel part of the story and it is better than just following one character throughout.
The stage is set when bodies are discovered, but this is no usual case, the bodies are of men that have all been severely tortured and mutilated, if you do not like gruesome books then stay away from this one as McDermid does not hold back and many a time I winced or even looked away from the book, yet, at the same time I was enthralled. (If you do turn out to like this book then also give Mo Hayder a try).
Things in this book really heat up when it is discovered that one of the victims is a police colleague and the stage is set to profile not only the killer but also the victims, are they straight? Gay? Selected? Random? ... Hill of course is in charge of profiling the case for the police to help catch the killer, little did he know that a war will develop between him and the madman leading to a typical battle of good vs evil.
Unlike a lot of other books I have read I find that the Mermaids Singing and Val McDermid books in general have a great balance or detail and action. Let me further explain what I mean here, some authors like say Stephen Booth do one of the things I had and that is put in too much detail, I find that this means it can take me ages to get into the book and as much as I enjoy them this annoys me and others will be like James Patterson where I feel that details are left out in favour of a quick thrill that can be read really quickly. McDermid though explains everything perfectly, you get the details you need to feel that you can solve the case first and to get the atmosphere and tension but it is not over the top so you don't get bored.
This book is tense, well written, has twists and character depth to match with its fast pace it is extremely enjoyable and I found that it captured my attention to the point that I didn't want to put it down.
At 443 pages in a good sized font and unlike many other books decent sized chapters (only 18 in total) it is a really nice size and will take a while to read. It is well worth the full price of £5.99 on Amazon. I actually have an older copy of the book which is now available through Amazon marketplace new for under 50p - a great bargain.
The first novel in the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan partnership series upon which the television show 'Wire in the Blood' is based, The Mermaids Singing is not a novel for those faint at heart.
There is a serial sex killer loose in the fictional northern city of Bradfield. Dubbed 'the Queer Killer' it is up to criminal psychologist Tony Hill and detective inspector Carol Jordan to track down the killer, whoever they may be.
The main thread of the story is interposed with diary files from the killer's computer, they begin set behind in the timeline of the story, but slowly catch up until the novel reaches its horrific, gruesomely terrifying climax. Scenes of torture and sexual mutilation mean this book is definitely not for those with visual imaginations and a weak stomach. Although grimly graphic, this book is written incredibly and is a perfect specimen of crime fiction. Read this if you enjoy the work of Sue Grafton, Thomas Harris or any other graphic crime writer!
I would read this book again, and since some sections of it made me feel slightly faint, that's saying something.
A few years ago, I casually caught an episode of Wire In The Blood, having been a big fan of Robson Green when he was in Soldier, Soldier. I was curious to see him in another role, and it turned out to be in a genre that I am a huge fan of: crime thriller. As criminal psychologist Tony Hill, he was very good. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and doing a little research, found that the series was based on the books by Val McDermid.
Curious, I went and got one of her books, loved it, and then, a few books later, I started to read this one, The Mermaids Singing. I was excited to read this one, as it had been a while since I had read a Tony Hill book or seen an installment of the series. I was not disappointed at all.
It's the first of a few books featuring Hill, and it is gives a very raw and hard-hitting tale and characterisation. Set in Bradford, it follows the inclusion of a criminal psychologist (Hill) to help with solving the murders of four men, all displaying similar methods. Various elements appear similar, and many assumptions are made, and the arrival of Hill throws the cat among the pigeons somewhat.
Heading the investigation is DI Carol Jordan, and she is pretty much the only advocate of Hill being included. The tension between the two becomes quite heightened, and McDermid does a fantastic job of letting the reader read between the lines into their relationship. It bubbles just beneath the surface throughout, threatening to become more than just professional.
What is quite stark though is the portrayal of the violence. It is definitely worth mentioning how graphic McDermid's descriptions can be. It's also in the storytelling and the characterisation, though. Whereas a lot of authors, such as Minette Walters and Ian Rankin, have the power of their villains and their crimes in the suggestive as much as the descriptive, McDermid launches at us with the gore and violence, but does so in a clinical and informative way, so as to make us appreciate the sheer heinousness of the crime at stake.
This in turn makes the story all that much more gripping, and I find that putting the book down is very hard. Sexuality is brought into the story at various points, but it's dealt with so openly that it loses any kind of sex appeal, being demoted instead to a dirty thing, not really showing any kind of 'love' as such, but just making the whole thing seem sordid and dirty.
What I find about McDermid's stories is that they are very easy to read. The words flow effortlessly, and I think this is probably because of the characterisation. The characters, their flaws and personality traits, extreme habits, and various other points, all combine together expertly under McDermid's pen (or laptop!) to give us a strong overall presentation of a well formed story.
She has a habit of giving us twists and turns in her books, throwing us off the scent before giving us the final punch. This is true of most crime thriller authors, but she does it very well, all the same, and it makes it work maybe even a bit better than some due to the skill involved with the plots anyway.
Overall, it's an excellent book. All of hers that I have read so far have been excellent, and this is one of the best. Stark, raw and powerful. Blatant with its description and very open with its brutal and gruesome elements, it is extremely hard to put down indeed. Recommended.
This is a good psychological thriller and an enjoyable read. The story is based in the northern fictional town of Bradfield and opens with the brutal murders of four young men whose deaths were rather grusome as they had been tortured and their bodies mutilated and the suspiscion is that these murders may be part of a homophobic killing spree.
Tony Hill is a criminal pschologist and he is enlisted to help search for the serial killer as he has experience with such killers having studied those who are behind bars and is able to build profiles of them. Thi sees him working closely with the lead inspector on the case Detective Inspector Carol Jordan and soon they have to deal with their feelings for each other as well as trying to hunt down the killer.
Hill is an interesting character who has a number of flaws both professional and personal, it is nice to have a lead character who is far from the usual macho hero you get on the cinema screens but then with books this is often the case.
This is a good solid thriller with a few plot twists and enough going on outside of the main story to keep it really engrossing and holding my attention as I got more involved in the storylines.
Some of the scenes in the book are quite graphic as they deal with torture and sadism so if you are easily offended or a bit squeamish then avoid this book as it is probably not for you, I guess it depends on how vivid an imagination that you have.
This is a good read and a book that I would recommend to anyone who likes psychological crime thrillers.
From the beginning it's clear that this is a gritty, fast paced novel which will involve fully drawn and vulnerable characters, graphic descriptions of torture and a focus on the psychological elements of police procedure involved in solving the crime.
The initial chapter is narrated by a murderer who explains their fascination with torture devices and describes murder as a 'strange and exotic drama'. The detachment of the narrator is chilling as they claim that they were compelled to commit murder the first time, but soon afterwards began thinking about how they could do it better next time. The quotations at the beginning of each chapter reinforce this idea of murder as a type of art that can be worked on. The intelligence of the murderer is clear through their language and grammar; their cruelty is even clearer as they admire the minds of those who perfected torture devices.
Throughout the novel, the narrative shifts between this first person narrative and the third person narrative following the pursuit of this murderer. Intriguingly, the first person texts are clearly some kind of record of events, and although in this first narrative passage the murderer only really refers to this first murder, in the first real chapter we learn that three men are already dead. As the novel develops this time difference allows the reader to anticipate learning more about the terrible murders - each man was tortured and mutilated before being dumped, naked, in well-known gay cruising areas. This is not a novel for those with a sensitive stomach, but details are not gratuitous.
Tony Hill is the next character that we meet and he seems incredibly uncomfortable in his own skin, choosing which persona to try on in the morning. Gradually more characters are introduced from the police force, all of whom are involved in trying to solve the individual murders without admitting that there is a serial killer on the loose. Not everyone is happy with this situation and McDermid establishes a lot of tension between the law enforcement officials which is only escalated when Tony is taken as an official Psychological Profiler to help them catch this killer.
Characters' motives and lives are skillfully drawn out, with just the right amount of information given to allow the reader to follow the twists and turns of the plot. A possible love interest is established early on, but Tony has some serious sexual hang-ups which create difficulties here, and the investigation quickly takes a very serious tone when the next victim turns out to be a little too familiar...
This is an effective psychological thriller which will keep you wondering until the end as the police have very few leads, just an increasingly detailed psychological profile, and the killer seems capable of extreme manipulation. The interest of this novel lies in the relationships between characters and developments in the plot, but is primarily in Tony's interpretation of the evidence. It is genuinely gripping: I read the whole novel in two days.
There is also an implied criticism of police procedure in the story of the treatment of one suspect. The development of this situation gives the novel a greater level of depth and led to a truly disturbing event which reverberated in the novel and in my mind long after I'd finished reading.
This novel won the 1995 CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year and is the start of a series of novels following Tony Hill's work as a clinical psychologist. The front cover of my edition includes a quotation from Minette Walters, another excellent psychological crime writer, which effectively sums up the novel: 'compelling and shocking'.
If you're a fan of crime novels and you've never read anything by Val McDermid before, this is a great place to start. McDermid is pretty well known these days since the TV drama 'Wire in the Blood' featuring Robson Green as the criminal profiler Tony Hill became popular. Tony Hill was created by McDermid and this is the first in a string of books featuring him. The novel of 'The Wire in the Blood' follows straight on from this, and I'd recommend readings 'The Mermaids Singing' first, as you get a good deal of background information on the character as he is introduced.
'The Mermaids Singing', winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Fiction, is set in the northern (and fictional) town of Bradfield where four men have been found tortured and killed. The city is in a panic and so the police bring in clinical psychologist Tony Hill to help catch the murderer. This is the first time Hill has been involved in an active police investigation, as he has previously spent his time studying killers who have already been caught.
Hill is a complex character who is very well portrayed, with all his strengths and weaknesses revealed for us by McDermid. He is a truly three dimensional character who we become quite involved with as readers. His own sexual problems and his anxiety over them make him seem very human. The tentative flirtation between him and Inspector Carol Jordan is nicely conveyed as well.
One of the things that makes this book original is the fact that the reader is allowed into the mind of the killer. At the beginning of every chapter, we are shown a few pages from the killer's journal. These can be disturbing, but they are an interesting device and very well written, and they give the book that little bit of edge.
I won't say too much about the plot so as not to ruin it for you, but it is exciting and well developed and definately worth a read. Personally I prefer the second in the series, 'The Wire in the Blood', but this is great to set you up for that.
The book is about 400 pages long and currently available on Amazon for £3.84, though I admit I got my copy for £1.50 on Ebay!
(review also posted on amazon.co.uk)
Back in July 2004, I had my first experience of Val McDermid when I read the book A Distant Echo I had been initially attracted by the fact that she is a fellow Scot and that she wrote in my favourite genre that of the psychological thriller. Deciding that it was perhaps time for a break from Martina Cole, and time for something a little new and refreshing, I came across a copy of The Mermaid Singing in a charity shop whilst on holiday in September. I bought the book (in mint condition) for the princely sum of 75p, which is quite a bargain indeed.
It still surprises me that Id never discovered this author before. She grew up in Kirkcaldy, a town on the East Coast of Scotland, its most famous son being the Adam Smith (the philosopher and economist) and the town itself being well known for the production of linoleum. McDermid became the first woman from a Scottish state school to be accepted at St Hildas in Oxford to read English and went on to become a young and enthusiastic journalist. She always wanted to be a writer and struggled as most do, to become accepted by a publisher. It was only as recently as 1991 that she was able to give up her day job to concentrate on the work that is her passion writing.
Her novels have won international acclaim and she has won a number of high profile awards including the LA Times Book of the Year Award in 2001 for A Place of Execution. The Mermaids Singing took the 1995 Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year.
~~~THE BOOK, THE STORY, THE CHARACTERS~~~
Up until now, the only serial killers Tony Hill had encountered were behind bars. This ones different this ones on the loose.
In the fictional City of Bradfield, the bodies of four young men have been found brutally tortured and mutilated, predominantly within the boundaries of the gay community. Not wishing to instil even greater panic amongst the towns male population, the Police are initially reluctant to admit that the murders are connected or that they could be the work of a serial killer.
Finally, and after internally admitting that a serial killer is a possibility, it is decided to secure the services of a criminal psychologist Tony Hill, who profiles the likely offender using a variety of psychological techniques. Despite the Police investigation team requesting the help of Dr. Tony Hill, who is heading up a Home Office Profiling Feasibility team, there exists an aura of disquiet between certain Police Officers and the man in the charge of the profiling, whos labelled by some cynics as a Home Office pen pusher.
It is perhaps for this reason, that the Police Detective Inspector in charge of the enquiry is a woman Carol Jordan, who is charged with working closely and collaboratively with Dr. Hill. A large part of the story focuses on sexual sadism and the history and inner workings of certain torture techniques and should you have a vivid imagination, this can become quite uncomfortable at times.
To say any more about the story itself may give the plot away, and although I wouldnt rave about this book, its certainly worth reading if youre a fan of this particular genre.
However, characterisation is the highlight of this novel with the central characters being well defined, and a little bit of a love interest is provided between DI Jordan and Dr Tony Hill. Dr Tony Hill has his own sexual problems and this is portrayed in a sensitive and fitting way that actually adds value to and becomes a key part of the overall plot. Not only is this achieved with sensitivity but the addition of gentle humour and this is done in a considered and intelligent way.
But overall there was something about this book that just didnt quite work and its taken me a while to work out what it is. As I say slightly earlier, the story focuses on a murderer who has a penchant for sadism. The lack of depth and understanding shown into such sexual preferences is what doesnt work here. Theres an underlying assumption that a sexual sadist is a pervert, that they deviate from the norm and that as a result we are sub consciously led to believe that anyone who indulges in such depraved practices is almost naturally going to have the ability to be a murderer. What I found particularly difficult to deal with was the judgement of sexual preferences and the pre-conception of what is normal and what is not. Personally, I think its clear that the author has no knowledge or experience of such things and has made a number of assumptions and possibly inaccurate judgements that end up having a strong bias on the story line. I think some more detailed research into sadistic tendencies as a sexual preference may have been called for independently of the research which would have been undertaken into the minds of serial killers.
Although I have experienced an element of discomfort about this book and was a little awkward with a number of assumptions that had been made, I must admit that on the whole this is a very good read.
On the positive side, the actual story is exceedingly sharp and has the reader gripped until the last chapter. Some people may find the ending a little predictable but it will nevertheless remain shocking and horrific. The sheer intelligence of the writing will stay with you for a very long time, although its difficult to explain why without giving a key piece of information about the story away.
As a psychological thriller it works. Its as shocking as it is compelling, and although not addictive in my opinion, its the kind of story filled with suspense and tension that you can become completely absorbed in for long periods of time.
The Mermaids Singing is unlikely to be read again by me, but other offerings by Val McDermid certainly will be; I like her style.
Published by Harper Collins
Available from Amazon new £5.59, used from £0.01
Thanks for reading.
© Christina ;-) x
?You always remember the first time. Isn?t that what they say about sex? How much more true it is of murder?. So from the first chapter, we are thrown into the mind of the serial killer that Dr Tony Hill of the Home Office and Detective Inspector Carol Jordan are investigating. Set in Bradfield, four men have been found tortured and murdered, their bodies mutilated. Dr Hill is brought in as the clinical psychologist to compile a profile of the killer - but it?s clear from the start that he has sexual problems himself. Mysterious phone calls with a husky voiced woman ?talking dirty? anger and confuse him beyond belief. He feels himself attracted to Carol Jordan but feels the best option is to do nothing about it. When one of the victims turns out to be a colleague, events take a turn. Did the killer know he?d murdered a policeman? Or did he kill BECAUSE he was a policeman? Does he want recognition for his atrocities? Leaving very few clues, the police are finding it difficult to get a breakthrough. At first it is thought the murderer targets gay men, as the bodies are always dumped in spots which are notorious for casual sexual encounters ? but Hill thinks that ?Handy Andy? likes his men straight. He starts to collate his information to see if the four victims are linked in some way. Stevie McConnell, who runs a local gym, quickly becomes the prime suspect after admitting he knew all four of the victims. However, in a strictly unorthodox search of McConnell?s house, Hill finds no further evidence he?s their man ? and McConnell is released. So, who is the killer? And why does he always strike on a Monday night? * What?s good * Vivid descriptions of the seedier side of life, the gay clubs and back alleys. Carol?s relationship with her brother ? who is a computer whizz and ends up helping out with the investigation. Hill?s appraisal of the killer lets the reader slowly uncover clues alon
g with the characters in the book as he builds the profile. The relationship between Carol and Tony ? both interested in one another but Tony pulling back for fear of rejection and humiliation. Will their friendship move forward? * What?s not so good * There are graphic descriptions of gore and sex. The torture scenes, as described by the killer, are gory and not for the faint hearted, although once you?ve read a couple of his chapters, you do get accustomed to it! * The baddie * What?s unusual about the book is that it?s told in alternate chapters, dealing firstly with the story as seen from the police?s side and secondly from the killer?s journal of destruction. The killer documents his victims? demise on computer and it makes a chilling read. He calmly explains why he ?needs? to kill them. He sees them as weak ? he wants a partner but one that?s his equal. Once he exerts his power over them and sees them whimpering and crying, he is no longer interested and they must be destroyed. He enjoys punishing them and relishes his fame when he reads about the killings in the newspaper. This guy covers all his tracks, leaves no clues and feels he?s far too clever to ever be captured. * My thoughts * This is a disturbing read at times. The scenes of physical punishment described are sickening. Chapters are around 10-20 pages long, the ?journal? of the killer sometimes runs to just a few pages (which, believe me, when describing what he does to the victims, is plenty!). The book can be read fairly quickly, it also has frequent breaks in the chapters so it?s easy to pick up where you left off. However the very real characters of Carol Jordan and Dr Tony Hill are enough to keep the story going and they alone are worth reading the book for ? and the ?will they/won?t they?? is cleverly played throughout. The storyline of the murders does keep the interest going ? and what makes the book slightly d
ifferent from other psychological thrillers is that you do actually see into the mind of the killer. This is an unusual and clever angle to take as it gives the reader a few clues to who is behind it but not enough information to piece it altogether! There is a slow build up of tension, adding to the atmosphere and the pace does not pick up until about 50 pages from the end. As is usual with thrillers, there is a twist at the end, and I?m pretty sure you won?t see this one coming! I was smiling to myself as all was revealed, Ms McDermid certainly had me fooled! This was recently on television starring Robson Green but I?m happy to report I didn?t see it so had no idea as to the ending! * Verdict * So to the awarding of the stars ? 4 stars. I did enjoy it but it?s not the best thriller I?ve ever read and I didn?t get through it as quickly as I hoped, which probably meant it wasn?t engrossing enough! I still highly recommend it and will be looking out for more by this author. * Other information * ISBN 0-00-769752-X RRP £6.99 (always worth checking Amazon and Ebay for second hand copies) 402 pages, paperback edition. Winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year, 1995 * The author * Val McDermid grew up in a Scottish mining community. She read English at Oxford before becoming a journalist ? a career she pursued for 16 years. She is now a full-time writer, and lives in Cheshire. ?The Wire in the Blood? and ?The Last Temptation? follow on as the second and third books in the Tony Hill Series. * Other books by the same author * The Torment of Others Hostage to Murder The Distant Echo The Last Temptation Killing The Shadows A Place of Execution Star Struck The Writing on the Wall The Wire In The Blood Booked For Murder Blue Genes Clean Break A Suitable Job For A Woman Crackd
own Kick Back Union Jack Dead Beat Final Edition Common Murder Report for Murder * Further information about the author and her books * www.valmcdermid.com Thanks for reading!
This thriller chiller from the creator of the Kate Brannigan PI series is a great departure from her usual work, and is a great piece of writing. It concerns a serial killer of men and the pyschological profile team hunting the killer down, and is full of rich text descriptions and fascinating explanations of how these teams work. It's gory in places, leaving little to the imagination, and unusually leaves us in little doubt as to the killer's identity from fairly early on. This is done to heighten the tension as we think he/she's getting away with it - and revelling in it. There is a gripping chapter where the killer is confronted and the reader is practically yelling, No, Don't Go! as we know what lies in wait....a perfect novel for a long journey, as you just won't want to put it down!